Maurice RAVEL (1875-1937)
Pavane pour une infante défunte (1910) [7:33]
Daphnis et Chloé - Suite No. 2 (1912) [15:51]
Ma Mère l'Oye (1908-11) [17:39]
Rapsodie Espagnole (1907) [16:22]
USSR State Academic Symphony Orchestra/Evgeny Svetlanov
rec. live, Grand Hall, Moscow State Conservatory, 17 March 1975
MELODIYA MELCD1002338 [57:33]

This is fairly unusual: a Ravel collection taken from an audience-filled Moscow concert hall. Single-disc Ravel anthologies are common enough but not ones presenting recordings taken down at a public concert. You certainly cannot mistake the presence of the audience: there's applause after each item and a speckle of shuffling and coughs during the music. The recording is pretty immediate but no one can credibly claim that the results are silky. It sounds best when driven hard; loud volume settings are desirable.

Evgeny Svetlanov (1928-2002) ventured forth on disc twice with Debussy's La Mer; once with the State Academic Symphony Orchestra and once with the Orchestre National de France. Each was well received here. How does he fare with Ravel? Pretty well in fact, although a warbling tone in the Pavane does not help. Nor is this the most detailed of recordings in terms of transparency. Still, some telling points are made such as the very sensitive sighing whisper of a violin entry at 1.54. Daphnis appears courtesy of Suite no 2. Lever du Jour communicates as an expansive and slowly eruptive warm wash. Svetlanov is very sensitive when it comes to differentiating dynamic contrasts - all the more impressive in a live concert. The Danse générale boasts some corybantic flashes of animation. Ravel clearly learnt much from Borodin's Polovtsian Dances going by the squealing woodwind. On the debit side the strings are rather steely.

For me the Philips studio recordings of Ma Mère l'Oye by Monteux and the LSO are the reference (review ~ review) alongside Antonio Pedrotti's version with the Czech PO (Supraphon Archiv SU4199-2) which has just been reissued. Svetlanov's Pavane de la Belle au bois dormant lingers unduly while his Petit Poucet is disfigured by an tremulous oboe. There are brass imprecisions in Laideronnette, impératrice des pagodes. The slow plangent pulse in Les entretiens de la belle et de la bête is spot-on and the evil in the garden is nicely painted. A hushed Le jardin féerique has a nice warm glow. The Rapsodie Espagnole has a nicely pert Malagueña with some italicised trumpet work while the Habañera is suitably haughty and stiff-necked. In the Feria we are again treated to not the sweetest of violin sounds - more wormwood than nectar.

The liner notes are in Russian, English and French and are by Boris Mukosey. I am not sure why the work and movement titles have been translated from French into English. The original French has more atmosphere.

These fresh and enjoyable recordings were made at a concert dedicated to Ravel’s 100th anniversary so have historical significance. Even so, overall, this is more for Svetlanov enthusiasts or Ravel completists.

Rob Barnett

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